Over the past decade I have worked with a small but intensely dedicated group of community partners and elected officials to help create a world-class museum for the children of my home New York City borough of the Bronx. The Bronx is the only borough that lacks a dedicated museum facility for children, making the Bronx Children’s Museum not just a labor of love but also a desperately needed cultural institution.
Without former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s help, the Bronx Children’s Museum would still be nothing but a dream. Now, Melissa is running for Congress in the 15th congressional district in the Bronx. I know Melissa to be a champion for our children and a fighter for our community. I will be supporting her totally and I urge you to do the same by voting for Melissa Mark-Viverito by June 23rd!
The South Bronx, where the Bronx Children’s Museum will open its doors in 2021, is challenged by extreme poverty, illiteracy, high unemployment, homelessness, poor health (hunger/obesity/diabetes), pollution, low-performing schools, and limited access to quality early childhood enrichment programming. The situation has only been exacerbated by the presence of COVID-19, which has impacted the Bronx disproportionately. The percentage of Bronx children under the age of 18 living in poverty surpasses both NYC and national poverty rates.
In poor communities like the South Bronx there are no deep pocket donors. Government is a big funder of large established community cultural institutions. The importance of having a children’s museum facility cannot be overstated. Museums are like 21st century interactive libraries just for children and their caregivers. They are welcoming places where children learn, discover, and connect their natural curiosity to the larger world we want them to be a part of. If we want children to become contributing members of society we must care for them while they are young. Children are a long term investment and we live in a short-sighted society. With many competing priorities for limited government dollars, the Museum needed a champion. Melissa became that champion.
If I’ve learned anything from my forty-four-years on Sesame Street, it’s how crucial it is to provide our most vulnerable children with early childhood education and cultural enrichment opportunities. Melissa understands this as well. I once heard someone say that we live in a society that “makes believe it cares for children.” That’s because when budgets need cutting, services for young children, and the arts, are often the first to go. This happens regardless of how many educators and politicians report on the essential importance of early childhood and arts education.
As City Council Speaker, she spearheaded the allocation of $3.6 million in capital funds with the support of City Council member Vanessa Gibson, to ensure ample funds to complete construction of the Museum site, which broke ground in 2017. She also allocated additional funding for the Museum for educational and arts programming at PS 49 and PS 5, and the nearby NYCHA Mitchel Houses to ensure a strong connection between the institution and the residents of her district.
In 2021, the Bronx Children’s Museum will open its brick and mortar facility in the South Bronx. For years BCM has operated as a museum without walls serving more than 16,000 children, family members, and caregivers annually through eleven programs. As an emerging museum, the Bronx Children’s Museum has provided programs without walls for more than 115,000 children and caregivers since 2010 in some of the most underserved areas of the Bronx.
The new facility will be located in the old powerhouse building in Mill Pond Park near Yankee Stadium. When it opens its doors in 2021, the Museum will provide interactive, inquiry-based programs, both inside and outside its walls, and will serve nearly 25,000 children annually, including many children who might not normally visit or who could not normally afford a trip to a museum.
In addition to fighting for children and their families, when elected to Congress Melissa will also push hard for innovative policies that will greatly help improve the lives of her constituents.
When I was growing up in the Bronx a children’s museum anywhere was an unimaginable idea. In my early adulthood, children’s museums sprouted up in other boroughs. It’s time for the Bronx to catch up with a children’s museum of its own and level the playing field. Melissa Mark-Viverito will make that happen. That’s why I support Melissa Mark-Viverito for Congress. I have no doubt she will continue to fight and she will serve our community well.
About Sonia Manzano:
Sonia Manzano is an award-winning actor and author known worldwide as “Maria” from Sesame Street. Manzano has been a volunteer with the Bronx Children’s Museum for over a decade. In addition to actively participating in museum events, she wrote a picture book for the museum called The Lowdown on the High Bridge. The proceeds from the sale of this book benefit the Bronx Children’s Museum.